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Image: Savage X Fenty

Rihanna’s boundary-pushing Savage X Fenty collection is at the center of a budding new legal battle centering on what is being characterized as “deceptive advertising and illegal operations.” In light of a growing number of “customer complaints about Savage X Fenty’s Xtra VIP Membership,” non-profit, advertising watchdog TINA.org initiated an investigation into the marketing of the 31-year old Grammy winner-slash-burgeoning retail phenom’s Savage X Fenty’s membership program and says that it “found that the company is violating [U.S. federal] law.” 

According to formal complaint letters filed with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, respectively, Connecticut-based TINA.org claims that TechStyle, Inc., the company behind the $150 million-plus Savage X Fenty joint venture, is running afoul of the 2014 settlement it entered into after being sued by the state of California for allegedly misleading customers about automatic monthly payments charged to their credit cards in connection with its JustFab.com, Fabkids.com, Shoedazzle.com and Fabletics.com businesses.

In furtherance of that settlement, TechStyle agreed to pay $1.8 million and refrain from “making untrue or misleading statements about products or services; deceptively marketing product prices and discounts that are only available to consumers who are bound by the company’s VIP membership without clearly and conspicuously disclosing this fact; and failing to provide a timely cancelation mechanism,” among other things.

Fast forward 5 years, and TINA.org claims that it is precisely these off-limits tactics that TechStyle is using to bolster its wildly successfully Savage X Fenty venture. 

In addition to allegedly “promoting prices and sales that are only available to consumers who are bound to the company’s Xtra VIP Membership” without clearly disclosing that fact, and misleading consumers about how/when they can use their “unused store credits,” TINA.org claims that one of the most striking behaviors of TechStyle comes in the form of its alleged “enrolling of consumers into … the Xtra VIP Membership without clearly and conspicuously disclosing all the material terms and conditions.” It allegedly does this by “automatically adds (without a consumer’s affirmative consent) a ‘Savage X Monthly Membership’ to the Shopping Bag without showing any price associated with that membership and displays a discount price for the item(s) in the bag.” 

Because TechStyle only provides consumers with a “summary of the Xtra VIP Membership terms at the end of the order process (with different terminology than that used in the Shopping Bag throughout the check-out process),” no small number of consumers have been misled, per TINA.org, and thus, claim that they “never authorized SavagexFenty to sign me up for [the $49.95/month membership],” a sum that is automatically collected from their bank accounts each month until they actively cancel their memberships. 

The situation is made worse, TINA.org, as once an individual is a Savage X Fenty member, TechStyle “employs dissuasion and diversion tactics so that consumers encounter unnecessary difficulty when trying to cancel their memberships.” According to the complaints, “Countless consumers report experiencing great difficulty when trying to cancel their Savage X Fenty Xtra VIP Memberships, which can only be done by calling the company despite the fact that joining the subscription service only takes the click of a button online.” 

Finally, TINA.org argues that among other “illegal acts,” TechStyle is preying upon consumers by “using social media influencer advertisements that fail to adequately disclose the influencers’ material connections to the company.” Specifically, TINA.org asserts that it “has identified a sampling of 70 social media posts by 21 different influencers that deceptively advertise Savage X Fenty products,” none of which “have adequate disclosures of the influencers’ material connections to the company either by failing to include any disclosure at all, using inadequate and unclear language to disclose the relationship, or placing the disclosure in a place that will easily be overlooked by consumers.”  

With the foregoing in mind, TINA.org claims that TechStyle is not only violating its 2014 settlement (which is legally binding), it is running afoul of the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act, a federal law that prohibits sellers from “charging any financial account in an Internet transaction unless it has disclosed clearly all material terms of the transaction and obtained the consumer’s express informed consent to the charge.”

As such, the ad watchdog has asked the FTC “to commence an investigation of the claims being made by Savage X Fenty, as well as the illegal business practices being employed by [TechStyle], and take appropriate enforcement action,” and is also urging the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, which investigated TechStyle in 2014 (thereby, resulting in the lawsuit and settlement), to “re-open its investigation” and take any necessary enforcement action. 

Rihanna, herself, is not listed as a recipient of either of TINA.org’s letters.